June 01, 2007


Caption: Can you find the ants in this picture? E. O. Wilson could.

This has inadvertently turned into Darwin week at Goat Rope so I may as well stay the course and recommend a good but not terribly recent book, Edward O. Wilson's 1995 autobiography Naturalist.

While El Cabrero was never a huge fan of sociobiology, one of Wilson's many brainchildren, it's hard not to like Wilson himself (no known relation). Before and after he moved into evolutionary grand theory, he was--and remains--a naturalist's naturalist, turning over rocks and logs in search of nature's wonders.

And he has become a real leader among scientists in defending the environment, recently calling for Christians to join the fight to preserve the natural world.

Wilson ignited quite a controversy in the 1970s with his suggestions that genes influence human society to a degree largely unimagined. He was attacked--sometimes unfairly--for promoting an ideology which some said could justify inequality, male dominance, xenophobia, war, etc.

In fact, he didn't believe biology was destiny and was not much of a political animal, describing himself as a "Roosevelt liberal turned pragmatic centrist." One could do worse--much worse.

The debate over the role of biology in social life is destined to go on for a long time, but his other contributions both to natural science and protecting the environment are beyond question.

Here's sample from Naturalist about his beloved ants:

They are everywhere, dark and ruddy specks that zigzag across the ground and down holes, milligram-weight inhabitants of an alien civilization who hide their daily rounds from our eyes. For over 50 million years ants have been the overwhelmingly dominant insect everywhere on land outside the polar and arctic ice fields. By my estimate, between 1 and 10 million billion individuals are alive at any moment, all of them together weighing, to the nearest order of magnitude, as much as the totality of human beings.

He left out the part about them getting in your pants and making you dance, but otherwise the book is a keeper.

DROPPING ALL PRETENCE OF SOCIAL RELEVANCE, Goat Rope is sticking to the theme of weirdness this week. In case you missed it, here's a recent item on a possible sighting of the Loch Ness monster, complete with a video clip. After more than 6 years of the Bush administration, nothing seems weird to me anymore...

WHATEVER... This is inside baseball for West Virginians. The masterful "just-the-facts" blog of all things pertaining to El Cabrero's beloved state is Lincoln Walks at Midnight, which has this item about state Supreme Court justice Brent Benjamin in which he claims that he won in 2004 not because of coal baron and Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship's money but rather due to the mistakes of his opponent, Warren McGraw.

Far be it from El Cabrero to deny that his opponent made a mistake or two, but I find the whole Loch Ness thing MUCH easier to believe.



Sometimes Saintly Nick said...

I found the ants only by expanding the pic to the full 17” of my screen.

That’s an good picture of Nessie—as long as it wasn’t faked.

El Cabrero said...

You win the E.O. Wilson award! I tried to blow up picture but couldn't figure out how to do it.